By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Izaac Yarbrough made an entire prep career out of baffling batters with a filthy repertoire on the mound.
Through one season at Wallace State, the lefty’s proven his stuff is still strong in the college ranks.
As a result, Yarbrough is receiving the opportunity he’s always dreamed of — a shot to pitch in the Southeastern Conference.
With family and coaches in tow Wednesday morning, the Vinemont High graduate signed a national letter of intent to attend and play baseball at Auburn University. The sophomore will spend one more spring in Hanceville with the Lions before officially becoming a Tiger next fall.
“I had a goal to go to an SEC school after (Wallace), and of course I want it to be Auburn. Everything worked out,” said Yarbrough, who’s always pictured himself in blue and orange.
As for his family and Lions’ assistant coach Adam Scott, an Alabama alum? That’s a different story.
“I grew up being a fan, and coach Scott’s a big Auburn fan, so he’s been an influence in wanting me to go there,” Yarbrough said with a good-natured grin. “My family’s having to wear Auburn now, so that’s good.”
The hurler’s freshman campaign was nothing short of exceptional. In 48 2/3 innings spread over 12 appearances, Yarbrough compiled a 4-2 record and 1.85 earned run average to go along with 36 strikeouts and just nine walks. He went the distance in two of his nine starts, finishing second on the team in ERA and fourth in innings pitched.
Those gaudy numbers certainly won’t surprise anyone who followed Yarbrough during his time at Vinemont.
After racking up Class 3A Player and Hitter of the Year honors, as well as a spot on the Super All-State Team, in 2011, the ace went out with a First Team selection at pitcher the following year. The nod was well deserved considering Yarbrough’s near-perfect 9-1 record and razor-thin 0.54 ERA. In 64 2/3 innings, he allowed only five earned runs, 11 walks and 19 hits while striking out 110 batters.
“I’ve been keeping up with Izaac since he was a little boy up there at Vinemont, always seeing his name in the paper and how he excelled at the high school level,” longtime Wallace State coach Randy Putman said. “So when it came time to finding a good left-handed pitcher, it was more or less a no-brainer because here was a local guy right up the road that we knew would improve once he got into our program.
“And that’s what he’s done. It’s a great honor to go pitch at Auburn. That’s one of his goals, so we’re glad that he’s getting to do what he’s worked to do.”
As much as he’d like to, Putman couldn’t take all the credit for molding Yabrough into the player he is today. Among many others, Vinemont coach Chad Shannon and the Lions’ Scott have been there to help the lefty along the way.
“I’ve tried to make him tougher. I’ve tried to make him meaner. I’ve tried to make him to the point where he competes every time he goes out there,” Putman said. “But coach Scott’s the one that’s really brought him along and taught him how to pitch rather than just throw.”
After holding down the third spot in Wallace State’s rotation as a freshman, Yarbrough is expected to compete for the No. 1 role this coming spring.
“We’re counting on him being one of our top guys,” Putman said. “We hope that every time he throws his glove out there we’ll have a chance to win.”
Come 2015, the number of players from Cullman County on Auburn’s pitching staff will double. Keegan Thompson joined the Tigers this fall after an illustrious prep career at Cullman High.
Yarbrough said he knows Thompson “pretty well” after playing summer ball together on the Alabama Seminoles. He’s also familiar with Robby Clements, who’s now at Auburn after spending the last two seasons with the Lions.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully getting to play with them and having a couple good years down there,” Yarbrough said.
The Bearcats have churned out SEC talent right and left in recent years, but Yarbrough didn’t downplay the impact a county kid pulling off the feat could have on other players with high hopes down the road.
“I think it’s good I get to put Vinemont on the map,” he said. “Hopefully they can look up to me and one day surpass me and go to Auburn, or wherever they want to go. Hopefully it gives them an incentive to get better, set their goals and go reach them.”
With one more goal crossed off his list, Yarbrough will soon turn his attention to another objective — and it’s a biggie.
“I want to get drafted,” he said of his major-league aspirations. “Of course that’s my goal, but I’m glad I’m getting to go where I want to go. I want to keep playing as long as I can. I don’t like school (laughs).”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.